En route home from running an errand, I noticed our local Ford dealer had a white Focus ST sitting front of lot. An impulse prompted me to pull in and take a look at it.
This car was a 201B package, which meant it had the Recaros, moonroof, and MyFord Touch. One reason I'm interested is that I own a 2012 GTI, the car the ST has been frequently benchmarked against.
I'll talk about the good stuff first:
Engine: Everything that's been written so far is true. It's great. Sounds good, very flexible, pulls HARD. If it has rev hang, it's minimal compared to the GTI (one of my biggest pet peeves about the TSI motor). It's a sweetheart.
Transmission/Clutch: Clutch is definitely heavier than the GTI, and engages very near the floor--took a sec to learn that. Transmission feels more like a rod linkage--again, heavier than the GTI but much less slop. I really liked it. Not a huge fan of the shift knob though.
Steering/Handling/Ride: Ride is a bit firmer but more controlled than my GTI; by contrast the GTI doesn't feel as well damped. Steering is fantastic; it turns in quickly and eagerly. I'd love to attack a back road with it. The steering does go a bit stiff under hard acceleration; you can feel something attempting to quell torque steer and it does put the steering off. Handling feels very composed, and the one cloverleaf I was able to throw it into you could feel the rear end come out just a bit under lift-off. I could see this car making unexpecting drivers have an moment if they throw it into a similar corner, lift off expecting nothing but understeer, and have it do quite the opposite. Kudos to Ford chassis engineers for pulling that off.
Exterior: Not as subdued as the GTI, but nicely done overall. The center exhaust finisher is an interesting touch. Big bummer for me that you have to pony up for the top spec car to get HID's. That, and one other major issue (which I'll get to in a second) are likely deal-killers for me.
Interior: The cloth Recaros are very firm and have big bolsters. You'll either love them or you won't depending on how big you are. These are manual adjust, and you're best off adjusting the seatback angle before you put on your seatbelt--thereafter the lever is lost behind the lap belt, which is annoying.
Instrument cluster isn't bad, although the design and gauge font is a bit too form over function for me. Color MFD in the center is a nice touch, but at least in the 201B package car it doesn't tell you enough--no real trip computer or redundant radio display (at least that I could figure out)? Why, Ford?
The center console seems way too big for the size of the car; not sure why it has to be so large, honestly. It's big enough that my right calf was pressed up against it. I think that'd annoy me in the long run. The steering wheel isn't bad, but it's not as thick/grippy as the one in my GTI. The leather also has a weird finish to it. It's ok overall.
MyFord Touch--ah. Well, V2.0 is definitely better--quicker and a bit more user-friendly. I still didn't find it hugely intuitive, and it was occasionally laggy when switching functions. I was also surprised given this car was equipped with Sync that the Bluetooth audio support didn't give me more control over my Windows Phone device. I know a USB connection would, but it was exactly the same as that in my GTI. Stereo wasn't bad, but given it had the additional subwoofer in the hatch I wasn't as impressed as I thought I might be.
Now, to the deal-breaker: Rear seat room. The Recaros are BIG, and kill knee/leg room in the rear. I'm 5'11" with a 30" inseam (read: mostly torso) so I didn't have the seat all the way back--far from it. And my knees were jammed into the front seatback. The sales guy was bigger than me, and had the passenger seat farther back/more reclined; there was literally about 4" of room between the front seatback and the front of the rear seat bottom cushion. The GTI totally blows it away in this regard.
Overall, it's a GREAT drive. Real shame about the backseat space, as that'll keep me in my GTI.
By comparison, the GTI's shifter is crap, the steering isn't as good, the suspension isn't as well damped, and the engine isn't quite as good--it's a bit peakier when it comes on boost and it has the annoying TSI flat spot off idle. But it does pull very well--I did the same route in my car after driving the Focus and was surprised at how quick it felt (it's not chipped, but does have an exhaust). Overall, I like the interior of the GTI better.
Funny sidenote: We returned from the testdrive and I parked the ST next to my GTI. There were 3 sales guys standing around my GTI...apparently I inadvertently parked in an area where new/used cars are brought back from detail. I'd cleaned it up a bit yesterday, so I guess they thought it was going on their used lot. One of the guys says, "Why would someone trade this in so quickly?" Heh.